INSIDE THE MIND OF COFFIN JOE. Box Set Review by Steve Kirkham

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INSIDE THE MIND OF COFFIN JOE

4 stars
Arrow. Limited Edition Blu Ray Box set

One of the films in this wide ranging box set is called Hallucinations of a Deranged Mind, which is a good as a description as any of what is on show here with these 10 films from the Brazilian filmmaker José Mojica Marins (1936-2020).

I first heard mention of this director way back when, in a small snippet about a couple of his films in, if memory serves correctly, an early issue of House of Hammer magazine. I was intrigued, but resigned to the fact I would never get to see any of the productions from this maverick, featuring his creation Zé do Caixão, as he was known as in his native country.

Spin forward some years and he had been rechristened the now familiar Coffin Joe by Mike Vraney of Something Weird Video, who had started releasing the films to a wider audience and, at last, I was able to view several of these crazy outings.

Now we have Arrow to thank for bringing ten of the films out on Blu Ray in fantastic, brand new 4K restorations which, for the most part, look amazing. Any flaws present are, I suspect, a consequence of the low budget nature of the original productions.

Calling the set INSIDE THE MIND OF COFFIN JOE is something of a convenience as, whilst this has the trilogy starring that famous character, the rest are either peripherally connected or have different roles essayed by Brazil’s boogeyman auteur. I guess calling it Inside the Mind of José Mojica Marins would have meant nothing to most punters. The set is showing as Sold Out directly from Arrow at the moment, but I expect you can purchase it elsewhere.

It should be noted that the first five films featured here are available via Arrow’s streaming service.

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to view the copious extras featured on the set but knowing Arrow they will be of the highest standards.

AT MIDNIGHT I’LL TAKE YOUR SOUL – 1964
À Meia Noite Levarei Sun Alma
First up is the debut of the famous Zé do Caixão/Coffin Joe. He is an undertaker in a small town, up to no good, as he is seeking the perfect woman, in order to sire a son to continue his bloodline – this seems to be his only quest in life. With his wife Lenita infertile, he decides he’ll instead have his wicked way with Terezinha, the girlfriend of his best friend Antonio. Inevitably this doesn’t end well for Joe.

Weirdly atmospheric despite being dated, this features (as most of these films do) over the top acting and an emphatic music score. The main character on show here doesn’t feel fully formed and the film itself tame compared to what is to come.

Determined to make the film Marins apparently financed it by selling his house and car.

THIS NIGHT I’LL POSSESS YOUR CORPSE – 1967
Esta Noite Encarnarei no Teu Cadáver
The second outing for Coffin Joe – he has the much longer curling fingernails he is famed for and is more fancily dressed with a trimmer beard. He has clearly gone up in the world, but is still a nefarious undertaker. He even has a hunchback assistant in the shape of Bruno (Jose Lobo) to help him in his continuing quest to father a son – as he believes his offspring will be a superior man who will save the human race.

He kidnaps six girls from the village – there are astonishing sequences featuring spiders and snakes where the actresses are really put through the ringer.

The character here is much more coming into his own, showing himself to be a sadistic and driven madman determined to find the perfect woman who can give him what he wants. He even has a secret laboratory and acts like a mad scientist.

And look for those penetrating, Lugosi-style eyes (a re-occurring “motif” in many of the following films).

There is a freaky sequence in a graveyard just over an hour in and then the film bursts into colour as Joe finds himself in the caverns of hell in a nightmarish vision – when he awakens the film goes back to black and white.

Despite being made in the 60s these clearly cheap productions often feel like Universal movies from the 30s and 40s with added more explicit violence and gore (or the Mexican movies that aped them) – this was probably the intent or at least an influence.

THE STRANGE WORLD OF COFFIN JOE – 1968
O Estranho Mundo de Zé do Caixão
This is the first of the peripheral Coffin Joe movies – he is only in it for a few minutes introducing it in his inimitable rambling style!

An anthology of three stories. First one THE DOLLMAKER (O Fabricante de Bonecas) has an old guy who creates eerily realistic dolls – it’s the eyes – and he uses his four daughters to draw men in in order to keep his dolls looking real… fairly obvious where this one is heading.

Second one TARA (Perversion) is a bit throwaway, almost comedic to start with. A hunchbacked street balloon seller becomes obsessed with a beautiful girl he sees walking by each day, but she has a boyfriend and remains unattainable – then things turns to tragedy as he sees her stabbed to death on her wedding day… what follows is something more sinister and creepy when he breaks into her crypt and opens up her coffin!

Third one IDEOLOGY (Ideologia). This one has Marins playing a Professor Oãxiac Odéz, who invites a TV interviewer and his wife to his weird home to prove his odd theories about love and instinct – they witness scenes of sadism and depravity. Shocked by what they see, they try to leave but find themselves trapped there as the Prof insists on showing them proof of his theories. More gory horror ensues as he presents various sick scenarios for their delectation. He may not be playing Joe here but he is a pretty depraved character and this is the best of the trio.

THE AWAKENING OF THE BEAST – 1970
O Ritual dos Sádicos
This an odd one – which was banned in Brazil for some twenty years.

A psychiatrist tries to prove his theory about the influence of drugs on kinky sex and violence. He uses 4 people and gives them LSD and analyses how the films of Coffin Joe will affect them and thereby prove his hypothesis.

This has the usual jumble of imagery – especially scenes of a sexual nature (a seeming obsession of Marins) and much nudity. There is a surreal sequence featuring Coffin Joe where the imagery burst into colour with the rest of the production in black and white. Marins does this in several of his films.

Overall this was just weird and a bit pointless.

THE END OF MAN – 1971
Finis Hominis

Here’s a departure for Marins, an odd drama with comedic overtones – a naked man walks out of the sea and things happen when people encounter him – like an old wheelchair bound woman walking again. He is called Finis Hominis (The End of Man in Latin) and he appears to be a messianic miracle man. But who is he really?

People begin to follow him – he is given some clothes by a woman after he saves her daughter and he ends up looking like some kind of guru from the East. No wonders the hippies embrace him.

Inevitably, this being a Marins film, it has random sex scenes to spice things up.

Groovy stuff with most of it shot in colour, though some scenes are mono. Is he some kind of prophet sent to save the world. A messiah? Or an escaped lunatic?

Completely different from the familiar horror films this is quite bizarre – is it meant as some kind of comment? Who knows…

WHEN THE GODS FALL ASLEEP – 1972
Quando os Deuses Adormecem
This is another odd outing for Finis Hominis, in this sequel to THE END OF MAN, which starts off immediately where the previous film ended. Another mix of colour and black and white footage. Doesn’t look as good as some of the other films as it was restored from the only existing 35mm print.

Two factions one lead by Skull, one by Chico Swamp in a slum fighting over a girl. Then Skull’s small son is taken. Finis Hominis has kidnapped him – he somehow makes the two gangs make up.

Everyone is talking about the return of the weird man.

There is a gory sequence with people dancing at a ceremony of satan worshippers (or something) as if possessed and they start ripping apart and eating ‘live’ chickens with blood dripping from their mouths. This is prefaced with a warning just in case you might be distressed by it.

They then go to the cemetery to sacrifice a girl but Hominis turns up and stops them demanding different sacrifices. Chaos ensues and he leaves.

And so it goes – in an incoherent mish-mash of scenes where Finis Hominis wanders in and puts things right – often spouting cod philosophy.

All very odd.

STRANGE HOSTEL OF NAKED PLEASURES – 1976
A Estranha Hospedaria dos Prazeres
Back to more familiar territory – Unusually this was directed by Marcelo Motta, though no doubt Marins was heavily involved. Here he is playing a receptionist at a strange hotel – the character isn’t a million miles away from Coffin Joe, with lots of close-ups of his eyes or zooms into his face.

Beating drums. Men freakily gyrating. Seven scantily clad woman doing odd dancing. A coffin. Masked figures making noises. Lightning. Joe rises from the dead from the coffin and spouts his usual nonsensical philosophy to open the film.

An advert in the paper for a staff at a hotel called Hostel of Pleasures. Marins comes out in coat, purple shirt and bowler hat to make his selection – three women and one man are hired.

It is a stormy night with lightning crackling across the sky. Guests begin to arrive and the hotel starts filling up. There are four guys in their room gambling. A man on his own. A hippie biker gang arrive and are given room 13. Of course group sex ensues!

More guests arrive – a group of men. But four of them must leave as it is full… or maybe it isn’t. There’s a smoke filled room of bikini clad ladies serving food and drink to one of the guest. What is going on? Things just get more and more bonkers without any clear idea what is happening and lots of bizarre music overlays the colourfully shot action (with judicious use of coloured gels).

We start to learn more about these characters and what they have done before getting to the hotel – and why they might be gathered there…

Psychedelic and at times positively surreal.

HELLISH FLESH – 1977
Inferno Carnal

This time out Marins plays the scientist Dr. Jorge Medeiros, who has a much a younger wife Raquel (Luely Figueró). He is always busy in his laboratory on his research so she looks elsewhere and starts an affair with Jorge’s best friend Oliver (Oswaldo De Souza). It seems the good doctor is loaded, so the adulterous duo decide to kill him so she will inherit his wealth.

Raquel throws acid in his face then, whilst he is suffering, Oliver sets fire to the lab. With him hospitalised for months and seemingly on death’s door, they start living it up and burning through money believing that he will shuffle off and leave them minted.

Bad luck for them as he survives and he plots his revenge, whilst plagued by memories of the night of the acid attack and conflagration.

Probably the least weird and most straightforward film in this set – though there are some gruesome scenes of real eye surgery, this is a more muted affair compared the normal weirdness on show.

HALLUCINATIONS OF A DERANGED MIND – 1978
Delírious de um Anormal

Sort of a greatest hits cut together with scenes lifted from previous Coffin Joe movies (though apparently using sometimes longer uncensored versions) as a top psychiatrist Dr Hamilton (Jorge Peres), now in an asylum, is plagued by nightmares where he believes Coffin Joe is trying to takes his wife Tania (Magna Miller) away from him, as she is the perfect woman and can bear him a son. That old chestnut!

The doctors treating him hope bringing in the real Marins to talk to Hamilton might help – and he can use it as research for his movies. So a win win!

Jam-packed with strangeness from previous productions featuring the malevolent undertaker there is plenty of the expected weirdness, gore and nudity, screaming, strange noises, cackling and over the top music. The film features about half an hour of new footage with scenes from the black and white films tinted in colour.

EMBODIMENT OF EVIL – 2008
Encaração do Demônio

This late in the day Coffin Joe sequel also features footage from the first two movies starring the famous character. This time out, despite protests he will go back to his old ways, our evil undertaker has been released from prison after 40 years, older and greyer. Of course he is soon renewing his quest to find the perfect woman who can give him a son… with his loyal manservant Bruno (Rui Rezende) in tow.

What follows is pretty much what you would expect if you have waded your way through the rest of the films on offer here. Gore, nudity, weirdness… the usual Marins madness!

Steve Kirkham